Rating: M/15+ for this bit
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use, more's the pity.
Warnings: Slash, some disturbing themes in this part.
Summary: HDM AU. Moriarty vanishes, and as Sherlock and Raniel try to untangle the reasons why, John and Amarisa ask the alethiometer a very important question - what does Moriarty want?
(Title page by birddi )
Part One: The Architecture of Our Lives
Part Two: Stepping Stones
Part Three: Foundations
Part Four: Shadowed Archways
Part Five: Buried Labyrinths
Part Six: Crossing The River
Part Seven: Glimmers in Darkness
Part Eight: Perdition's Bridges
Part Nine: Building The Republic
Part Ten: Lit From Within
Part Eleven: Structural Integrity
Part Twelve: The Reader
Part Thirteen: Spiraling Down
“Hungry?” John asked as he dug some bread, cheese and ham out of the Holmes’ gigantic kitchen.
He wasn’t getting his hopes up, but it never hurt to ask.
“Working!” Sherlock snapped.
John rolled his eyes at Amarisa, and his dæmon whuffed softly in amusement.
“You know,” John went on in a conversational tone as he fixed himself a ham and cheese sandwich. “I can cite several convincing studies on the detrimental affect hunger has on concentration and memory retention.”
“What would be the point?” Raniel snorted. “None of them were studying us.”
John laughed – he couldn’t help it – and Amarisa gave the polecat a pointed nudge with her muzzle.
“Sometimes I think we’ve found the borders of your ego, and then you go and remind us that your ego apparently has no limits,” she sniffed. “Are you really suggesting you’re so unique as to merit entirely new studies?”
“Of course,” Raniel said, sounding genuinely surprised she’d ever thought otherwise.
He and Sherlock were in front of a laptop – a different laptop from the one in their room, and John wondered if the whole family was as enamoured of computers as Sherlock was.
“What are you looking at?” Amarisa asked.
It was a mark of how large she was that she didn’t need to put her front paws up on the table to be level with Raniel.
“The financial records of Traditional Values for a Bright New Britain,” Sherlock answered, his voice clipped.
If that abrupt tone had come from anyone else, John and his dæmon would have assumed they’d done something to offend them. But that was just Sherlock – he always got snappy when he was busy. The fact that he’d answered at all meant that he was eager to include them in the investigation.
“Anything interesting?” John asked, taking his plate and sandwich and positioning himself so he could look over Sherlock’s shoulder.
“The usual eclectic combination of shares and stocks,” Raniel sniffed, resting his chin on Amarisa’s muzzle in a rather proprietary gesture. “But there’s a common thread – over half of the companies own overseas mines or smelting factories. Largely iron and titanium, but some tungsten, tin, manganese and copper as well.”
John was opening his mouth to ask ‘why’, when Amarisa suddenly moved, her ears pricking and her nose swinging out from underneath Raniel’s head to point at the door.
A moment later, Mycroft walked in, with Tehayla on his shoulder.
“Moriarty is gone,” he pronounced, not bothering with any kind of greeting or prelude.
John was grateful that years in the army had suppressed his startle reflex until it was only a rapid blink. Amarisa padded to his side, and he reached down to curl his fingers in her fur.
“What?” Sherlock snapped. “He can’t be gone.”
“’Gone’?” John repeated. “As in, run off?”
“Yes, John,” Raniel hissed. “Gone as in ‘run off’, if that’s how you want to put it.”
Amarisa cocked her head, staring the polecat and his human. “Seriously?”
“Mycroft is never anything but serious,” Raniel snorted.
“But no big dramatic showdown, no final confrontation, not even an attempt to find out how we knew about his spies?” John wondered. “Doesn’t seem his style.”
“It’s not,” Sherlock muttered, his eyes getting that hyper-focused look they always wore when he was picking at a case. “Which means that it was a deliberate retreat – we didn’t scare him off, he chose to leave. But why?”
Mycroft smiled in a way that always made John wonder if it was deliberately tailored to seem as insincere as possible. “Well, I’ll leave that to you – I have some housecleaning to do.”
John watched the door shut behind him, and Amarisa wondered aloud, “Is ‘housecleaning’ some kind of euphemism for interrogating Moriarty’s spies?”
“Very likely,” Raniel said. “Mycroft always says he’s housecleaning whenever he suspects a leak.”
Amarisa snickered, and though John shot her a disapproving look he couldn’t stop his lip from twitching.
“But why?” Sherlock suddenly burst out.
John frowned. “Why housecleaning?”
“No, not the housecleaning – try to keep up! There was no reason for Moriarty to withdraw at such an early stage, no reason not to try to fight for this organisation that will supposedly hand him the keys to Great Britain when needed…unless, for whatever reason, Traditional Values for a Bright New Britain was not his mainstay, but then what was?”
Sherlock’s fingers drummed on the arm of the chair for a moment, and Raniel’s tail flicked.
“We need to speak to the Gyptians!” Sherlock declared, leaping to his feet as though his legs were spring-loaded.
“We do?” Amarisa echoed. “Why?”
“Boats!” Sherlock exclaimed, scooping Raniel up and practically running out of the room.
Amarisa growled in exasperation, and John sighed. “Sometimes, I wish they were quite so melodramatic.”
At least he’d managed to eat half his sandwich.
Sherlock knew he rarely drove – cabs were so much more efficient, never had to worry about parking – but he still didn’t think the sight of him behind the wheel merited the flabbergasted expression on John’s face.
“You can drive?” Amarisa said as she clambered into the backseat, disbelief in her voice.
“Of course we can drive,” Raniel snorted. “How else would we get out here for the Christmas parties?”
John grinned wryly. “I just figured you teleported.”
“Astounding as some of my skills may seem, I have not yet managed to master teleportation,” Sherlock drawled, feeling ridiculously charmed.
“Can we get a move on?” Amarisa asked, her ears pricked towards the house and her tail stiff.
Sherlock could feel his eyes narrowing. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s ‘wrong’, per se,” John muttered, looking furtive. “But the alethiometer is still in my pocket, and I think your brother might object when he finds it missing.”
Raniel laughed as Sherlock started the car and sped down the driveway. John and Amarisa kept glancing over their shoulders as though worried Mycroft was about to come flying out after them.
“He probably won’t notice it’s been taken for at least three hours,” Sherlock offered. “He and Mummy have been busy.”
“Yeah, I noticed Tamsyn and Hasna had kind of disappeared,” Amarisa mused. “Witch business?”
“Relocating some artefact that one of Moriarty’s spies in the Consul was showing a bit too much interest in,” Raniel sniffed.
John frowned. “Should we be worried? Granted, Moriarty with a witch artefact doesn’t sounding as terrifying as Moriarty with the Maystadt Guillotine, but still.”
“Hardly,” Sherlock scoffed. “Witch artefacts never have working spells on them – they’re far too old. They are valued for the history behind them, not because they do anything of use.”
“So why is it a problem if Moriarty’s interested in it?” John wondered.
“Wait, wait!” Amarisa broke in. “I think I remember Hasna saying something about this in Afghanistan. Remember, when we were discussing the Crusades and the myth of the Holy Grail?”
“Oh, yeah,” John nodded. “Didn’t she say something about how a witch clan’s status is linked to how many artefacts they hold?”
“Exactly!” Amarisa exclaimed. “So having one stolen would mean losing a lot of face.”
Raniel chuffed in irritation. “Pointless game-playing, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”
“It wouldn’t surprise you?” John echoed, looking bewildered. “You mean you don’t actually know?”
“Why should I?” Sherlock pointed out.
“The politics of witch clans have very little to do with crime,” Raniel added. “And when they do…”
“Mycroft never lets us, and I quote, ‘meddle in clan affairs’,” Sherlock spat.
It didn’t rankle much, given that politics was more about subterfuge and diplomacy than actual crime, but there had been that case five years ago with that Greek translator that had looked so interesting…
“He says we’re not diplomatic enough,” Raniel grumbled.
John’s face contorted, as though he was trying to hide a smile, and Amarisa made the soft, muffled whines that denoted smothered laughter in a wolfdog.
“What’s so funny?” Raniel growled.
“You’re many things, but diplomatic is certainly not one of them,” John grinned.
Sherlock was trying to determine whether that was an insult (and if so, what should be done about it), when Amarisa spoke up.
“We don’t blame you – we’ve never seen much merit in the ‘keep your enemies closer’ thing.”
But in spite of their cheer, the mention of Mycroft had made them edgy again, and it was only when the house vanished around the bend that John dug his hand into his coat pocket and produced the alethiometer.
“Any particular reason you took that?” Raniel asked. “Annoying Mycroft is a perfectly valid reason in and of itself, of course, but was there anything else?”
“I don’t really know,” John mused, staring at the thirty-six symbols and the ever-moving needle. “It sounds ridiculous – it’s just a hunk of metal, it’s not like it has feelings – but I feel as though it…likes me, or something. And that I should keep it with me.”
It did sound ridiculous, and if anyone else had said that, Sherlock would have sneered at them. But aside from the fact that this was John and Amarisa, he knew that John and his dæmon seemed to possess an awareness that other people simply…didn’t. As though they existed on some kind of higher plane, separate from the rest of humanity – even from Sherlock and Raniel.
Most of the time, thinking about that produced a strange feeling of mingled excitement and triumph. But sometimes – like now – Sherlock found some wistful part of himself wishing he could see what John saw.
Raniel – previously draped across Sherlock’s lap – climbed his human’s shirt and jumped into the backseat, landing next to Amarisa. The sound seemed to shake John and the wolfdog out of some sort of reverie.
“So,” John said, tucking the alethiometer away again. “Gyptians – why?”
“Moriarty retreated, yes?” Sherlock began. “So clearly, his insipid little organisation wasn’t important to him, but we need to find out if it hid anything of importance. He’s left the country, but what did he take with him?”
“And if you want big things moved quickly and anonymously, you use the waterways,” Raniel piped up from where he was snuggled between Amarisa’s forelegs. “He probably wouldn’t have hired actual Gyptians, but they make it their business to know everything that happens on the water.”
“So if there have been any new boats around, they’ll know about it,” John finished. “Brilliant.”
John had called him ‘brilliant’ and the various synonyms thereof so many times that even Sherlock had lost count. So it was completely ridiculous that the strange flush of pleasure those compliments gave him had yet to abate. A glance in the rear-view mirror showed him Raniel had turned away in embarrassment to groom his fur.
Sherlock made himself snort. “Hardly. If he’s fleeing the country, he won’t want to be encumbered with anything not strictly necessary – he’s far more likely to have moved money electronically and anonymously.”
“Still, it can’t hurt to check,” Amarisa said philosophically. “Do you want us to ask the alethiometer?”
“Probably not the best idea,” her human cut in. “The alethiometer can be very literal, remember? And with only three hands to structure the question, it’s difficult to be very specific. We ask it what Moriarty took with him, I bet we’ll get what he actually physically carried with him – like, say, a toothbrush and a change of clothes.”
Raniel made a noncommittal humming noise, then wriggled into the thick hair that covered Amarisa’s chest and rested his head on her paw.
The main problem with driving a car to London was that you then had to find somewhere to park it. Sherlock decided to head to the MET, largely because there were always a few spaces open there and he could easily talk his way in.
“You’re sure your brother’s not going to have me arrested?” John asked abruptly, his fingers curled over the pocket that contained the alethiometer.
“Doubtful,” Raniel replied, gazing out the window with Amarisa. “He hasn’t had us arrested yet.”
Amarisa looked down at the polecat. “You know, if you were anyone else, we’d probably ask why he’d want to arrest you.”
John chuckled; a sign that he was amused, but still worried. When John was truly happy he giggled like a prepubescent child – a high-pitched, breathless sound Sherlock found ridiculously endearing.
“What’s wrong?” Raniel asked, fixing his eyes on John.
“It’s just…taking the alethiometer was an impulse,” John shrugged. “I don’t usually listen to impulses about things like that. So now some part of me is wondering if this thing can somehow control people.”
Amarisa made a strange, uncertain noise – part growl, part whine.
“On the contrary, I think taking it was a sensible idea,” Sherlock cut in. “We are essentially at war with Moriarty, with all the dangers that implies. The alethiometer is a powerful weapon in that war, one that only you can use – what would have been the point of leaving it with my brother?”
Though Sherlock could admit he and Raniel would have been happier if John and Amarisa stayed at the house with three witches on hand to protect them. But they couldn’t trust that John and Amarisa’s noble impulses wouldn’t lead them into ill-advised self-sacrifice if the house was attacked – at least this way, they could keep an eye on them.
Sherlock was broken out of his thoughts by the sound of John’s giggle – no chuckle this time, but an actual giggle. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” John grinned, reaching behind him to rub his dæmon’s ears. “I was just thinking that you always know how to cheer me up, and wondering what that says about my sanity.”
Sherlock had a full second to absorb that before Amarisa – obviously recognising their surroundings – asked, “Hey, are we going to see Lestrade?”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Sherlock said shortly, turning the car into the car park.
“Then why are you pulling into the MET carpark?”
“Because I know there’s always a space or two available.”
John giggled again, and Amarisa whuffed in amusement as Sherlock pulled into the first available space.
“He does still need our statements, though,” John pointed out as he opened the door to let Amarisa jump down.
“So?” Sherlock snorted, letting his own dæmon take his customary place on his shoulder.
“So I’m not going to make his already difficult job more miserable just because you’re impatient,” John said, he and Amarisa already making for the entrance.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Raniel squeaked indignantly.
“To see Lestrade,” Amarisa replied, looking mischievous as she grinned her dog-grin. “You coming?”
As if she and John knew the worry that lurked at the back of Sherlock’s and Raniel’s mind, the thought that maybe – with their government spies being ferreted out and Moriarty on the run – the witches would be willing to risk striking the wolfdog and her human down, regardless of Mycroft’s power and influence.
“That’s cheating,” Raniel grumbled as he and Sherlock followed them.
“I’ll make it up to you,” John tossed over his shoulder, with a grin and wink.
Sherlock had never seen the point of innuendo (if you were talking about sex, why not say so outright?) but looking at the teasing, almost daring expression on John’s face, like he was sharing a secret, Sherlock thought he could begin to grasp the appeal.
The grin Amarisa was wearing now was closer to a wolf’s than a dog’s.
Lestrade was surveying the neat pile of paperwork on his desk and wondering if he could somehow procrastinate for another hour or so.
Zarania shot him a sharp glare, and snapped her beak at him. “No you don’t – we promised we’d get the desk tidy today.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” Lestrade grumbled.
Times like these – times of politics and bureaucracy, everyone wondering just how long a self-proclaimed ‘master criminal’ had been around and why no one had noticed it before – drove him quite close to regretting his promotion.
He glanced up, letting his eyes skim the desks outside his office, hoping for some kind of problem or even an emergency that would need his immediate attention and justify abandoning the desk for another day…
When he saw John and Amarisa step out of the elevator, closely followed by Sherlock and Raniel, Lestrade had to work hard to keep the grin off his face. He allowed himself a little snicker of relief, swiftly followed by a soft sigh of resignation – taking Sherlock’s statement was always a nightmare – and was composed by the time John opened his office door.
Usually he sent one of his people to take statements, but dealing with Sherlock was a very cruel and unusual punishment, and none of them had done anything to deserve it. At least, not recently.
“Hi,” John greeted, sounding sheepish.
“Hello, Zarania,” Amarisa said, looking up at the falcon on her perch and wagging her tail.
Lestrade could admit he’d been curious when he’d learned Amarisa was a wolfdog, curious enough to look into it. He and Zarania had learned about wolf-exclusive behaviours and dog-exclusive behaviours, that wolfdogs could mix and match them, and it had made them wonder if it was natural for Amarisa to wag her tail, or if she did it because people expected her to.
It had also made them wonder why having a wolf dæmon was supposed to be a bad thing. Sure, everything they read was filled with words like ‘apex predator’ and ‘specialised hunter’, but it was just as liberally sprinkled with ‘social’, ‘pack-oriented’ and ‘protective’. Wolves were one of the few animals that formed monogamous mating pairs, and were even known to drive away bears when they were defending their den or offspring.
People usually held up the vicious Tartar warriors as an example of why people with wolf dæmons were to be feared, along with Genghis Khan and his dæmon Kalazhad. And there was certainly something to those stories – both the Tartars and Genghis Khan had committed terrible atrocities. But there were two sides to every story, and people often forgot that the Tartars had been so feared because of the strong sense of community and loyalty that held them together, that drove each man to fight for his friends and brothers rather than himself. Before they set out to found the largest contiguous empire in recorded history, Genghis Khan and Kalazhad rose from starvation and poverty to unite clans that had been warring for centuries. Lestrade wondered idly how the man would have coped with Anderson and Sherlock.
Perhaps people with wolf dæmons were fierce and frightening…but only to those they considered enemies.
“How are you two holding up?” Lestrade asked, taking in Sherlock and John with a policeman’s eye.
Sherlock looked disgruntled, but that was the expression he usually wore whenever he was in the station. But this time, it had an extra edge of irritation to it, and judging by the way Raniel was frowning at Amarisa, Lestrade was willing to bet Sherlock had never had any intention of coming down and giving his statement. He shared an amused glance with his falcon dæmon, and turned his attention to John.
In many ways, John and Amarisa were actually harder to read than Sherlock and Raniel. They were certainly more expressive than the consulting detective and his dæmon (you could practically track John’s thoughts by the contortions his face made), but that was only superficial – if John and Amarisa actually decided to hide what they were feeling, be it fear or irritation or sorrow, you’d never even suspect something was wrong.
After all, just look at the way Amarisa behaved. She was always polite and welcoming, deliberately down-playing the wolf side of herself so as not to put other dæmons on edge, and she let other dæmons touch her…but the only dæmon Lestrade and Zarania had ever seen her actually reach out to was Raniel. John and Amarisa seemed very personable, very open, but they let you as close as they wanted and no further.
Right now, John looked a little embarrassed, his eyes somehow managing to convey the fact that he was very sorry for the delay in taking their statements and making Lestrade’s job that much more complicated without saying a word…but that was all Lestrade could read. If John and his dæmon were shaken after being strapped to a bomb or nervous at the prospect of being hunted by a witch clan, there was no sign.
“We’re doing alright,” John grinned. “I think.”
“Well, I’m not sure how you’re meant to ‘hold up’ when you find out you’re the subject of a prophecy. Whenever someone mentions it I still get the urge to tell them to pull the other one.”
Lestrade couldn’t deny he was curious. “What is the prophecy, can I ask?”
“He will walk the fringes and his dæmon will set him apart,” Sherlock said, the first time he’d spoken. “He will find a home with the outcasts and his soul will be unique. A witch will raise him and the witches will protect him. He will forge his own path and he will answer his country's call. Loneliness will know him, death will touch him, he will see what others are blind to and he will know what others cannot see. And he will be our destruction. And he will be our downfall.”
Some parts sounded almost nonsensical, but it sent a small wave of goosebumps up Lestrade’s arms, nevertheless. Zarania ruffled her feathers and shifted on her perch, a sure sign she was agitated.
“You know,” Lestrade said slowly. “If it was anyone else, I’d laugh, but knowing you two are the subject of a witch prophecy makes a disturbing amount of sense.”
John chuckled. “Is that a compliment or a criticism?”
“It can’t be both?”
Amarisa made a chortling sound of amusement, and John ruffled her fur with the backs of his fingers. Lestrade was fairly certain he even heard Raniel muffle a snigger in Sherlock’s collar.
“So…” Lestrade announced, trying to get them back on track. “Statements?”
“I am complying under protest-” Sherlock began, and Lestrade snorted as Zarania screeched in laughter.
“Not any different from the usual, then.”
“It’s a ridiculous rigmarole,” Sherlock snapped. “You already know what happened-”
“They don’t know everything that happened, Sherlock,” John interrupted. “But hey – points for the alliteration of ‘ridiculous rigmarole’.”
Sherlock scowled, but the effect was rather ruined by the way Raniel was making little squeaky giggles through his teeth.
In the end, John and Amarisa had given their statement first, hoping to lead by example. Which they doubted would work on Sherlock and Raniel, but they could at least try.
They had debated over whether or not to tell Lestrade about Moriarty touching Amarisa. John could admit their first impulse had been to keep it a secret – being violated like that was deeply personal, and it wasn’t easy to talk about – but if Lestrade and his people had even the slightest chance of encountering Moriarty, they needed to know what he was capable of.
Mycroft had said Moriarty had fled Britain, but John could admit he was rather disinclined to trust that. Wouldn’t it be in Moriarty’s best interests to let them think that he’d gone, but keep working behind the scenes and just try to keep a much lower profile?
Granted, since no one had even known he’d existed before he started playing this game with Sherlock, John and Amarisa weren’t sure how it was possible for him to keep a lower profile, but they weren’t letting their lack of imagination deter their theory. Sherlock and Raniel seemed to agree that Moriarty had left the country, but John and his dæmon couldn’t shake the fear that Moriarty was playing with them, that he was watching them, that they’d turn around and he’d just be there.
When they were finished, they waited outside the office while Sherlock gave his statement (one they were both sure would include far too many references to the supposed incompetence of the police), and every time a short, dark-haired man in a suit walked by John couldn’t stop himself from tensing. Amarisa was leaning against his legs, and the fur on her neck bristled every time she caught a whiff of strong cologne.
John and the wolfdog were aware they were being paranoid, but felt they had good reason to be.
The door clicked open, producing a disgruntled Sherlock and Raniel and an exasperated Lestrade.
“We’re done,” Lestrade announced, with the long-suffering sigh possessed by all policemen who had to work with Sherlock. “Now for Christ’s sake, take him back to wherever you two were hiding.”
John laughed, not surprised that Sherlock had managed to sour Lestrade’s mood within twenty minutes. Moriarty had scared him, and Sherlock got snippy and vicious when he was scared.
“You were the one pestering us to further your foolish bureaucracy,” Sherlock sniffed as Raniel’s nose wrinkled, as though in disgust.
With that last cut delivered, Sherlock strode away, making a beeline for the elevator.
But John and Amarisa lingered.
“Sorry about…” John waved an arm in Sherlock’s general direction, hoping it would convey his meaning. “It’s just that-”
“I know, Moriarty scared the shit out of him,” Lestrade interrupted bluntly. He was looking at John, but Zarania was focused intently on the retreating forms of Sherlock and Raniel.
John shrugged. “Wasn’t quite how I was going to put it, but you’re right.”
“Come on, John!” Sherlock called, sounding as frustrated as if John and Amarisa were holding up a particularly spectacular chase.
John rolled his eyes, and Amarisa made a soft, chortling sound of amusement.
“Sorry, got to go save the world,” John quipped.
“Or Sherlock, which is a probably a lot more difficult,” Lestrade snorted, before suddenly sobering. “Be careful, all right?”
John nodded, refraining from mentioning that he and Amarisa were nervous enough – they didn’t need Lestrade’s warning – then jogged to catch up with Sherlock and Raniel.
“What were you talking about?” the polecat asked as soon as the elevator doors closed.
“Just a friendly warning to watch our backs,” John replied. “This prophecy business has him worried.”
“And it doesn’t have you worried?” Sherlock snapped.
“Of course it does,” Amarisa huffed. “But we’re used to being in danger – it’s different when you’re safe, and someone else is in the firing line.”
Sherlock made the kind of noise that indicated he was mulling that statement over, but John caught the way Raniel shifted his grip on Sherlock’s collar, as though uncomfortable. They might like to pretend they didn’t know what it was like to worry about someone else, but he and Amarisa knew better.
“So, is Lestrade going to investigate those mines?” John asked as they made their way out of New Scotland Yard and into clouded daylight.
Sherlock didn’t say anything.
“We didn’t tell him about the mines,” Raniel admitted.
“What?” Amarisa barked. “Why?”
John rubbed his forehead, and took a moment to reflect that he should have mentioned them in his own statement. But Sherlock had known more about them, and he and Amarisa had just assumed Sherlock would be the one to tell Lestrade…
John supposed they should have known better than to assume anything with regards to Sherlock and Raniel.
“He doesn’t need to know,” Sherlock said in the kind of lofty tone that seemed to imply mere mortals could not understand his thought processes.
“Sherlock…” Amarisa growled softly, giving him a stern look.
“Well, think about it!” Raniel protested, sounding indignant. “If he wants to investigate, he has to tell the rest of his team, doesn’t he? And police are the worst gossips.”
John felt like protesting on Lestrade’s behalf, but he knew the polecat was right – police investigation depended upon a lot of people knowing exactly what was going on. And considering the vast network of spies Moriarty had possessed in the government, it wasn’t exactly a stretch to assume he had police working for him as well. So perhaps it was a good idea to keep what little information they had to themselves, for a while at least.
“Fair point,” John said at last. “So where are we going to find the Gyptians at this time of day?”
It turned out that at this time of the day, most Gyptians not at work would be found moored at a nice waterfront pub. As usual, Sherlock seemed to know where every single one was, and chose the ones his contacts frequented.
They didn’t find Marge Costa this time (which was a little disappointing – she and her husband had been very friendly) but instead a tall, well-built man with tattoos, red hair, and a goat dæmon. Sherlock and Raniel went to greet him but John and Amarisa hung back, unable to quell the need to keep their eyes on the door, to keep track of the various exits.
“This isn’t healthy,” Amarisa muttered. “This is twice now we’ve been obsessed with checking people’s faces and I can’t seem to stop sniffing the air, trying to pick up the scent of his goons.”
“I don’t think we’ll enjoy public places for the next week or so,” John sighed, reaching down to rub the wolfdog’s ears. “Though I suppose it could have been worse.”
Amarisa’s giggle was strained and nervous, but it was a giggle nevertheless. “Really, if all we take away from…that…is a bit of anxiety around strangers, we’re getting off very lightly.”
John put his hand in his pocket, feeling the weight of the alethiometer. The metal was warm against his fingers, but then, it had never truly felt cold. Perhaps because the first time he’d touched it had been in a large, heated room, and now it had been tucked in his pocket for hours and was undoubtedly warmed by his body heat…but he couldn’t help but think it was something more. He felt that same, dim stirring that he did the first time he touched the alethiometer, the feel of something acknowledging him, waiting for a request.
Amarisa knew what he was doing of course – her golden eyes were fixed on the pocket containing the alethiometer, and the hair along her back was beginning to prickle.
“It feels strange, doesn’t it?” she whispered. “Almost like it’s alive.”
John nodded absently, still running his fingers over the warm gold. It was actually a rather unsettling concept – John and his dæmon were the practical sort, used to dealing with what they could see or feel, and this was a bit more mystical than they were used to.
Later, John and Amarisa were never entirely sure what drove them to do it. Maybe the alethiometer was alive and wanted to be asked questions. Maybe pocketing it had made them feel bold. Or maybe, with Sherlock and Raniel putting the pieces together and getting important information, they just wanted to be useful.
A glance at his dæmon showed she was thinking the same thing he did. John slowly sank to the ground, like a drunk who’d lost his coordination, and Amarisa moved in front of him, laying across his legs to block the alethiometer from view as John pulled it from his pocket.
He turned the three dials, barely even needing to glance at the alethiometer – it was like he could feel where each symbol was – holding the question in his mind as clearly as he could.
What does Moriarty want?
The constantly-spinning needle began to whirl more purposefully, stopping at the symbols for power, control, and…
And John had no idea what the last symbols referred to. Well, he knew what they were saying, but he’d never heard of…whatever that was before.
Sherlock and Raniel abruptly reappeared, and John hastily stowed the alethiometer away before rising to his feet.
“Anything useful?” he asked as they stepped out onto the street.
“We’ll see,” Sherlock said, with the preoccupied look that meant he’d been given a new fact and was wondering how it fit with the rest of the case.
Usually, John would be pestering him for details right now, but there was a more important question on his mind.
“Sherlock, have you ever heard of something called a ‘god killer’?”
Part Fourteen: God Killer (contd.)